Northern Ireland

Ballymurphy Inquest: Woman 'threatened as she cradled John McKerr'

Maureen Heath Image copyright Relatives for Justice
Image caption The Ballymurphy inquest heard testimony given by Maureen Heath, who has since died, to victims' groups and researchers

A woman said she cradled the head of a dying man whilst a paratrooper threatened to shoot her, the Ballymurphy inquest has heard.

Ten people died after being shot in the area over three days in August 1971.

Maureen Heath lived opposite the chapel on Belfast's Westrock Drive where John McKerr was shot and fatally injured.

Mrs Heath has since died, but the court heard testimony that she gave to victims' groups and researchers in 1999, 2007 and 2009.

She told interviewers how she heard a shot, and looked out the window of her home to see 49-year-old Mr McKerr walking past the chapel and glancing around, trying to decide where the shot had come from.

Seconds later, she said, another shot rang out and Mr McKerr was hit and fell down.

Image caption Nine men and a woman were killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in August 1971

Mrs Heath ran over from her home to try to help.

As well as saying prayers for Mr McKerr, she bandaged his head and cradled it in her arms as an ambulance arrived and two attendants came over.

It was then she said she heard a voice from behind her saying: "Don't move or I will shoot you."

She told interviewers that she looked around and saw a paratrooper pointing his rifle at her, and then the two ambulance staff retreated to their vehicle.

Mrs Heath said she stood up, and faced the soldier.

She described in her statements what she had told him.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption John McKerr died more than a week after he was shot and injured

"I said 'Go ahead and shoot'. My life wasn't worth much. They'd shot our priest, so what was my life worth?" she said.

Her priest and friend, Fr Hugh Mullan, had been shot dead in Springfield Park two days earlier.

She said an Army officer then told her to calm down, got the soldier to put his rifle down and allowed Mr McKerr to be taken away in the ambulance.

The court also viewed a YouTube clip of a public meeting in 2007 in which Mrs Heath told her story to a packed room.

Visibly upset, she told the meeting that Mr McKerr had been an innocent man, and she wanted his family to know it.

Earlier, the court heard evidence from pathologists for the coroner and the next of kin.

They agreed that Mr McKerr had been shot in the head by either a low or high velocity bullet, and that it was not possible to establish from which direction the shot had come.

Mr McKerr died more than a week after the shooting due to complications, including the onset of meningitis.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.